Full of life and wonder, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is a tremendous film and one of the very best of the year. It is a movie made with care and attention to detail, one that tenderly crafts every thread of its characters, backdrops and plotlines to comprise one of the most complete and most charming motion pictures to come out in a very long time.
In this day and age of CGI and glossy filmmaking, we can forget just how neat organic filmmaking is. From the art of the storybooks read by a character to the mailboxes in the New Penzance mailroom, every ounce of Anderson’s cosmos is fascinating. He balances out this aesthetic with a clever script and even some moments of darkness, producing a well-stocked sea of individuality and melancholic ache.
Moonrise Kingdom apparently takes place in 1965, but much of it feels timeless. It concerns a New England island, the aforementioned New Penzance, and a 12-year-old named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) who should become a classic film character. He is an orphan and a Khaki Scout at Camp Ivanhoe, a summer camp led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). One day, Sam goes missing.
Sam has actually met up with Suzy (Kara Hayward), a girl who lives on the island with her lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three brothers. She and Sam have met and fallen in love, so they’ve decided to run away together. This sets off the search, led in part by police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the Scout Master and Suzy’s family.
Anderson delivers his Moonrise Kingdom in imaginative style, with brave colours and untraditional camera angles. Because of this intrinsic distinctiveness, the picture achieves a definitive aesthetic that creates a quality of timelessness. Scenes unfold like paintings, not unlike the sorts of artistic works Sam paints for Suzy, and Anderson’s effervescent script colours in the rest.
With a few tone shifts and maybe some older characters, Moonrise Kingdom could pass for a serious military film – complete with procedural dialogue and stern performances. Indeed part of what makes this such a enchanted motion picture is that each performer is taking things very seriously; there is no winking and no palpable comic mugging.
Into this construct flies no less than a storm, one of the most acrimonious to hit New Penzance in a while. For Suzy and Sam, the advancing tempest is the dual dragons of responsibility and the potential to be apart. It is grave certainty, more a risk to their love than any night in the timbers could ever be. It comes in the form of Social Services (Tilda Swinton). It wears a hat – and not the coonskin kind.
There have been many stories about adult responsibility skulking through the woods in naïve search of its offspring. Moonrise Kingdom is in that great tradition, but it adds an aesthetic and consistency seldom seen in modern filmmaking. Anderson’s affection for his creation and characters is apparent in every frame and every detail.
This is the sort of movie that can be shared with anyone, from younger viewers to older ones with a keenness for art and magic. It should be cherished by those of us who remember when a kiss was still a kiss and an adventure was still an adventure, even if your parents were prowling after you with no batteries in their flashlights and a dumb, small cop was on the beat.